Sand Hills Memories

Life in Nebraska’s Sand Hills was, and continues to be, a challenge. Mrs. Lulu Kortz Hudson

shared these memories of her life in “the greatest sand dune area in the western hemisphere”

in the 1934 report of the Nebraska Home Economics Association:

“When we came to Cherry county we had no roads, no bridges, no schools, no churches, no

mail service. For roads there were just cattle trails. We soon learned that an old cow made a

fairly good civil engineer and that one could drive a team and wagon wherever there was a

well-defined cattle trail and that cow trails always lead to water.

“The first church services were usually union services and the sermon read from some paper

sent to a homesteader by home folks, but everybody could and did sing. The music was both

sweet and strong.

“To get a mail route a community must first carry the mail three months free before the

government would consider a petition. At Boiling Springs ranch, fifty miles west of

Valentine, a nail keg was fastened up on the outside of the log ranch building. Anyone going

to town brought the mail for the neighbors and dumped it into the nail keg. Each man came

along and sorted out his own mail. Finally a government agent was sent out to inspect these

pioneer post offices and he said if they didn’t move their nail keg inside he would report them

and they would lose their post office. I know a woman homesteader who, to save the work

oxen, walked seven miles to the office to get a letter from back home. Luckily the letter was

there. Her husband afterwards became a well-known judge.

“People who are established and prosperous seldom become settlers in a new community. A

new community, such as ours, was just a lot of people thrown together, not because they had

the same training and interests and liked to be together, but they gathered at one spot for one

reason–a desire to make nature yield each a competence.

“Universal equality and mutual dependence and helpfulness were encouraged. Abilities little

suspected by their owners developed under pressure of community need. Teaching,

preaching, singing, meat curing, blacksmithing, dressmaking, the care of sick, cooking, every

talent was shared. Did one own a buggy, everybody borrowed it for the infrequent trips to

town thirty miles away to file on land to be had as a tree-claim, pre-emption, or homestead, to

defend a contest claim, or to meet a sister or brother from the East coming out on a visit.

Ours was a land of open sky, long roads, and free hospitality.”

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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